In Milan, the artist-architect's studio as an ideal representation of his way of inhabiting art and the world, between light, matter and poetic words

"Architect, the city is dark," Emilio Vedova repeated to him at the start of the 1980s, urging him to take action. The ‘words of architecture’ of Marco Nereo Rotelli, an internationally renowned artist-architect from Venice, one of the protagonists of our exhibition-event Creative Connections at the FuoriSalone, probably took root this way, in the years of training in Venice, when it would still have been hard to predict their incisive impact on his work. His constant research on the possibility of a 'materialization' of poetic utterance and light has since been narrated by important art critics, as well as poets, writers, philosophers and cultural figures, from Massimo Cacciari to Achille Bonito Oliva, from Gilles de Bure to Fernanda Pivano.

Here, we will simply present his new atelier at Via Quintiliano 24 in Milan, the city where the artist now resides, created thanks to a spartan restoration of a former toy factory. Known as the Art Project, it is a sort of participatory factory, inhabited by a set of ‘fragments’ that immediately take on new life and meaning through the thoughts of his hands. This space embodies the worldview of Rotelli, generated by the dialogue and encounter of different languages and knowledges in the name of an art he sees as the “driver of being.”

There are his blue paintings, that intense blue that Fernanda Pivano urged him never to abandon, 30 years ago. There are his doors in gold leaf, illustrated with hieroglyphs, which represent junction points in a symbolic way; the large or small sculptures, leaning on the walls or standing on the floor; the prototypes of installation on which he has worked, with words etched in marble or painted on glass mosaics. Layered moments in time. Vintage furnishings also take part in this set-piece of forms, colors, materials, in a central island with mismatched armchairs, tables and lamps. Every item, in its own way, like the natural pigments and resins used in the works, conveys a perception of a deconstructed/reconstructed landscape that is highly introspective and ready to change its image and concatenations, day after day.

“The mental theater” of Marco Nereo Rotelli, as Renato Palazzi has defined it, is actually a place destined to contain words and lights, the raw materials with which the artist composes and communicates his vantage point to the world, combining large very technological urban installations with more traditional handmade paintings. “For me, the common denominator is always poetry, the thread that connects the hand to the mind,” he explains. “I began working with poets in the 1990s, asking them to offer me verses for specific projects. Mario Luzi and Edoardo Sanguineti, among others. I believe in the magic of the word, in the fact that men have to get lost in the labyrinth of words to find themselves again, in the words that become space, the architecture of words.”

“I am interested in making their urge towards an ulterior dimension of consciousness more legible, capable of changing the relationship with things. Through luminous installations, I seek another time, which is the instant of amazement generated by the action of rewriting. Light itself is the content of the message, the subject/object of the representation, because it is formulated in visual poetry, it is transformed like the words written on a page into something ‘other,’ in dialogue with buildings, cities, internal and external spaces. An encounter that follows the thread of energy of different thoughts, between wonder and rationality, archetype and domotics, dualisms that inhabit the reality of the human being.”

That immense open space of light and energy that is Rotelli’s atelier ideally extends into the space below, into the workshop shared with Roberto Ongaro, who works mostly on the organization, production and communication of the projects of the Factory and of Art Project, directed by the architect Elena Lombardi. “We began about 15 years ago, testing our elective affinities in improvised brainstorming sessions at Gattullo, working together on an installation about beauty sponsored by Ferrero Rocher at Palazzo Reale in Milan: the construction of three theatrical paintings with different narrative themes, involving the interaction of video mapping, large projections and action painting,” says Ongaro.

“This was followed, among other projects, by Mondo Terracqueo at Portofino: the interpretation of a pier at the center of which a globe with a diameter of about four meters contained a video that spoke of the sea and its relationship with the territory, like a light source. We created similar project last May in Milan, for the celebration of the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante Alighieri, in an exhibition organized by the municipal government at the park of CityLife,” he continues.

“Now we are on the threshold of the creation of another major work, which we can produce thanks to the support of BAT, which has asked VMLY&R to envision a work at the FuoriSalone that can represent Glo, with the idea of the Authentic Fake.” More recently, the focus has shifted to the value of art and breaking down borderlines, at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, where the artist is a guest of the pavilion of San Marino at the Ateneo Veneto. “When they invited me, I remembered that this is a historic library of my city, and I told myself I would have to visualize the idea of a place as logos,” Rotelli says.

“So I have made a work of architecture of luminous words that intersect in space, countering immateriality with figures: small skyscrapers made of books in recycled marble, with verses that cannot be deciphered, like windows of language. In the end, the idea is always the same: to convey a concept in a concert of tongues.” This is also a central theme of the exhibition-event "Experiri" which Rotelli has created at Palazzo Reale in Milan. The opening, this month, is like an encounter between art, poetry, music and science: a total work.

Project Marco Nereo Rotelli - Photos Massimo Dall’Argine/courtesy Art Project